Jonathan Judge is a frequent reader of DoU and is active on Twitter, but he recently took to the FanGraphs Community Research blog to examine how Kyle Lohse continues to post better-than-average BABIP numbers on an annual basis:
Overall, it is safe to say Lohse is showing a strong and consistent ability to beat his FIP, and over the last few years, is doing so better than almost any starter in baseball. He is doing so by generating balls in play that are uniquely unsuccessful at becoming hits, and which his defense seems unusually capable of being able to field for outs.
How is he doing this? It certainly is not his strikeout rate. Lohse is not anybody’s idea of a strikeout pitcher.
What Lohse does do, however, is control the count, minimize walks, and consistently pitch from ahead. This quality makes Lohse an extremely enjoyable pitcher to watch: despite topping out at 90 mph, he pounds the zone and challenges hitters. His BB/9 over the last three years has ranged from 1.62 to 2.01. During that same time frame, only Cliff Lee is more likely than Kyle Lohse to throw a first-pitch strike, which Lohse did 67.5% of the time. The fact that Lohse is throwing first-pitch strikes against 2/3 of the batters he faces without getting killed suggests that he is putting those strikes in locations where batters want no part of them. In short, Lohse has terrific control and consistently finds himself in counts where he and his catcher have the luxury of choosing their pitch.
Does Lohse’s control affect the quality of the ball being put into play against him? It very well may. Although his sample size could have been larger, Russell Carleton found that pitcher BABIPs correlated with the pitch counts the hitters were facing when they put the bat on the ball. The more favorable the count to the pitcher, the less likely the hitter will get on base from his hit. Kyle Lohse’s three best counts for limiting batter wOBA this year? Why, those would be 0-2, 1-2, and 0-1. And the three counts Kyle Lohse faces far less than any others? Those would be 3-0, 3-1, and 3-2.
The bottom line is that Kyle Lohse is an exception among aging starters: a pitcher who has gained effectiveness in his mid-thirties through terrific control that not only forces hitters to beat him, but also apparently limits the damage even when batters do hit the ball. Should the Brewers make Lohse available at the trade deadline next year, contenders would be foolish not to give him a close look, particularly with Lohse under control through 2015. When the difference between collecting a pennant and going home can be a batted ball just out of reach, it makes sense to have a pitcher with a demonstrated knack for putting the ball in the defender’s glove.
Be sure to read the entire article for the methodology. I thought it was a very interesting read and made me think about Lohse in a broader context.